Settle in kids, this is going to be a long one.
I started this blog nine years ago as a sort of self-therapy to figure out my issues with men, dating and sex. I suppose it has been that but up until about two months ago it was really more of a misguided attempt to make myself fit into the rigid mold my culture (and many if not most other cultures) has for women. That is to say as a seemingly heterosexual woman I should be married to, or at the very least involved with, a heterosexual man producing, or on the way to producing babies. As I have continued to fail these requirements I have spent the better part of my life trying to figure out, that is agonize over, why. It never once occurred to me that all of my struggles were due to the ridiculous expectations I was forcing myself to live up to and that I may actually be different than everyone else. I have always taken pride in the idea of being unique, but actually being different is a whole new ball game that takes a lot of insight and self-acceptance to play.
Last February I watched the documentary (A)sexual and successfully talked myself out of identifying with it for a variety of reasons, one of which is I don’t think the film was done effectively with respect to helping people like me understand how my experiences/desires fit under the umbrella of asexuality. Another of which is I didn’t do enough research because I couldn’t handle identifying as a sexual minority. So I put it out of mind. (Consequently I feel this short documentary is way more informative. Skip the first 30 seconds as the visuals are kind of off-putting as well as antithetical to the documentary’s message. I identified with many of the asexuals interviewed unlike those in (A)sexual who mostly seemed sex averse and bordered on if not outright identified as having Asperger’s.)
But the truth is pretty simple. I am asexual. It just took me another year to come across the term again, look a little deeper into myself and accept it. It still feels strange to say but I'm warming to it.
The accepted and purposely broad definition of an asexual person is someone who does not experience sexual attraction (to any gender). It does not explain or define how they feel about actual sexual experience, which is a completely different thing, nor does it explain or define how they feel about and experience other types of attraction, namely romantic or emotional. Asexuality is a spectrum just as hetero, homo and bisexuality are. Many asexuals have and enjoy sex both with others as well as alone. It only means there is no sexual attraction preceding the act. There are also asexuals who are indifferent to sex and yet others who do not like sex and want nothing to do with it. This is partly why asexuality is not an easy thing to understand nor identify with when you first learn about it…at least it was for me. I am still processing what it means to and for me but I can now say that I fully identify as an asexual. In reading over past posts, especially the one I wrote about seeing the documentary, it is so obvious it’s amazing how I could have ever denied it. If asexuality wasn’t so invisible maybe it would have been different but this is how my story goes:
About two months ago I came across the headline “What It’s Like to Date a Demisexual”. I remembered a commenter on my (A)sexual post who had called themselves a demisexual and even that I felt like it sort of applied to me, but I couldn’t remember exactly what it was. So I clicked on it and the first line sucked me in.
“I grew up assuming that I was 'normal'. I thought that other people were like me and that I was like them. As I got older, though, I realized that something just wasn't quite right.”
And then I read this:
“Most people use dates to get to know a person, whereas I need to connect with someone on a deeper level even to want to date them.”
Bells went off in my head. That is exactly how I feel but people have always made me think I was weird because of it. I related to so much of the article I immediately started researching demisexuality. It lead me back to asexuality which I then saw in a whole new light. Actually, what I saw was me. What I felt was relief. There was nothing wrong with me nor was I alone. It was short lived for the doubts immediately started creeping in, but I absolutely could not deny it the same way I did the first time because I knew it was true. Nothing in my life regarding men and sex had ever made sense to me but the more I read the clearer my life became. It was a rush of emotions all at once and I immediately told K. She read another article I found and the first thing she said was, “you make so much more sense now.” We’ve known each other since we were thirteen and yet neither of us knew how to talk about my behavior. We talked about boys sure but somehow we never asked the right questions.
If you are a long time reader you might remember phrasing I’ve used like my biochemistry is off and I’ve only been sexually attracted to a small number of men. Turns out that was my way of explaining my asexuality because it was the only language I had to describe it. But neither is accurate. In looking back at the guys that I have had crushes on, (and ones I might have said I wanted to have sex with which was me pushing myself to conform to “normalcy”) only one comes anywhere near what I think being sexually attracted might feel like. I remember really wanting to kiss him and thinking sex could be a possibility, but I’m pretty sure that is childlike compared to what sexual people must feel when they see someone they are attracted to. I imagine it is similar to a food craving. It’s physical and not something you can control having but that’s the closest I can get.
The crushes I have had on guys might seem strange in light of not being sexually attracted to them and that is something I had to wrap my head around right away in order to understand asexuality. I had always conflated sexual attraction with romantic attraction because that’s how I interpreted the world and all its messaging. I’d never understood how someone could have sex with someone they didn’t actually like. Forgive the arrogance of quoting myself but it’s fascinating to go back and see how I was asking the exact questions an asexual asks, but it never occurred to me to research why I was asking those questions in order to discover my asexuality:
“Attraction and love are relative things and for me it seems they should follow one another in leading up to sex. So why does it seem to me everyone and their mother is able to separate the two things? Even reverse them? I guess it’s normal to have sex with someone you’re attracted to and not in love with (at least for everyone who isn't me) but how do people have sex with someone they’re not attracted to? Do people really need to have sex that badly? Why don’t I have that drive?”
Understanding the difference in types of attractions led to understanding how I could have crushes on guys and not want to sleep with them. When I think about the guy I want to be with I imagine us snuggling on a couch. (It's a scene I’ve admittedly conjured a few times with yogajoe). The fact that most people imagine sex with the one they want to be with is totally alien to me. If I wanted to further label myself I would say I am a heteroromantic asexual. I like men and want to be in a deep emotional relationship with one, but I don’t really care about having intercourse with him. It doesn’t mean that I never will, and there is even a possibility that I could develop sexual attraction to a guy after falling in love with him (demisexuality) but at the moment it is not a priority in any way. There is a whole list of sub labels too complicated to go into right now, but you get the picture. Asexuality is an umbrella with a spectrum of experiences beneath it just like hetero, homo, bi, and pan sexualities.
But let’s go back to the beginning for a moment. I may have written about this before so forgive the repetition, but I’ve known since I hit puberty that I was different. I couldn’t figure out why I always felt out of place because I had always had friends and crushes on guys so it seemed like I was ‘normal’. But something was off. When everyone around me starting obsessing about sex I just figured I was a late bloomer and if I’m honest that I was just more mature because I had control. I still wanted a boyfriend but the more sex became an issue the more afraid I became, thanks to mom and all her boys only want one thing mantra. I was afraid of STDs and getting pregnant, also thanks to mom, so I just avoided the whole mess and concentrated on getting into a good college. Despite the crushes I may have had feeling like I might be broken began invading my thoughts.
Then I went to college and that feeling of being different subsided slightly, I think because I was so deeply involved with Jean, but it was still there. I (inwardly and outwardly though Jean was never very supportive about it) lamented about not having a boyfriend but couldn’t do much about it. The fear of rape began to grow at this point I think as I was inundated with stories about girls being raped at parties and when they walked anywhere alone at night on campus. So again, I mostly avoided guys and concentrated on trying to have fun and figuring out what I wanted to do with my life. I have also come to understand my relationship with Jean as being much more than a regular friendship, something I never allowed myself to think before because it was not sexual and it seemed weird to call it anything else. I beat myself up time and time again for not being able to get over how she treated me and how I let myself fall so low because she was just a friend. It was just a toxic friendship. But I was doing myself a disservice in calling it that. In the short documentary I mentioned above they use the term "queerplatonic" to describe relationships that run emotionally deeper than regular friendships but is not sexual. That is exactly what I had with Jean, which is why it has affected me so deeply and for so long. I guess at this point it just always will. K says I talk about her like people talk about ex spouses, but it’s not about sex. It’s about the emotional bond and when she broke ours she broke my heart. Because I never allowed myself to think about it in those terms I never grieved it properly. I guess it’s as simple as that.
When I finally freed myself from her I moved back home to help my mother heal from a nervous breakdown, and also to help myself heal after all I’d been through. The depression, the night hallucinations, the self-hatred, the rage…I had to recover my own identity and remember what it was like to live life for myself without any obligations to Jean. This is when M and I bonded as she had been in a similar abusive relationship with her best friend and had just gotten out of it. If I’m totally honest with myself it was yet another queerplatonic relationship but at the same time it was at the opposite end of the spectrum as my relationship with Jean. M adored me and worshipped everything I did. She encouraged me and gave me back my self-confidence. We helped each other through the aftermath of breaking up with our respective best friends. She put me on a pedestal I ultimately couldn’t handle. I told her to stop but she couldn’t help herself and eventually told me she was in love with me, something she later retracted. We had our own ups and downs and over the course of the years have grown distant, and despite the fact that she ended up hurting me in a completely different way than Jean I will always be grateful to her for helping me rebuild myself after a long, painful chapter. In the meantime I used all of this as yet another excuse to ignore men, dating and sex. But to my own credit, there was no way I could have had a healthy relationship in that state.
About a year after I got away from Jean and six months after 9/11 I quit my job and backpacked across Europe for six weeks as a sort of celebration of recovering myself and of life after experiencing the horror of the city’s tragedy. When I got home I felt refreshed and like myself again. I eventually moved out of my parents’ house, got a new job and joined the ranks of the living. It wasn’t long before the issue of men, dating and sex came back into focus though and my feeling of being broken became more pronounced. This time I attributed it to my fear of being raped and to my new fear of being emotionally devastated again. I didn’t trust anyone. In time I gained a few new friends, a terrible back stabbing boss, more bouts with depression and a new and fun feeling of isolation, but I was ok. For the most part. I started this blog around that time and really thought I’d be able to find my way out of the maze inside my head. Instead I just started running in larger, more complicated circles.
Over the next couple of years I fought harder and harder with myself about what I was supposed to be doing and what I was actually doing, what I was supposed to be feeling and what I was actually feeling, and dug a hole so deep I’m surprised I can see out of it. I use the present tense because I don’t think I’m quite done pulling myself out of it yet. I’m getting there, but it will take some time. The therapy and antidepressants a few years ago were worth it in that it brought me out of the dysthymic depression I was in but it never got to the heart of the matter. I dealt more fully with the experience with Jean but my therapist never offered insight on it being more than a friendship or why it affected me so deeply. I don’t know that it would have necessarily lead to discovering my asexuality but I think it says a lot about the work I have done on myself to try to understand my life.
I went back and read all of the posts from 2006. With the aid of time and my newfound knowledge of asexuality, it breaks my heart a little to see how much I suffered not knowing. How easy it would have been for me to see the light sooner if I had just thought to type some of my questions into a search. Instead I thought I was alone. And broken. It is such a common theme among people, asexuals in particular, who are different and don’t have the language to describe why.
“Every time I visit him or he visits me, I hope for the chemistry and at the same time know at this point it doesn't seem likely that I'll let myself feel it anyway…Why am I so obsessed with that spark? And why haven't I really felt any chemistry with anyone? Can I really do that much inhibiting with my mind?”
I believed for so long that I was repressing sexual attraction because what else could it be? Every single other person on earth experienced sexual attraction. Or so I thought. I was unaware people existed who don’t.
“I don't really see my virginity as something I'm hanging onto, because I'd gladly lose it if I could find someone I wanted to lose it to. And yes I hope it'll be someone I'm in love with, but at this point, I'll settle for someone I have chemistry with and who makes me feel comfortable (which I have to say again is odd that I haven't come across someone like this. I'd say I was comfortable with myself and my body, so I don't think that's the issue. Am I mixing up comfort with safety? If so, why am I so obsessed with feeling safe?)…I don't know why I'm trying to justify my normalness. It only enables the stereo-typers to raise their eyebrows and nod their heads. Considering this blog is pretty much a one sided conversation, maybe I'm just trying to convince myself I'm not a lost cause. Maybe one day I'll even figure out how to help me help myself.”
I have spent so much time trying to force myself into being the woman people expected me to be and even having the dreams people expected me to have. I’m supposed to be having sex. I’m supposed to want to be married. I’m supposed to want to have babies. I never allowed myself to imagine it was ok to not want these things. Rather, I never allowed myself to be ok with not wanting these things because I wanted to fit in just like everyone else. Instead I just kept worrying and wondering why I couldn’t seem to achieve any of them. The only reason I have ever cared about being a virgin is because of the stigma that comes with it. Because other people think I’m weird, mental, abused, or frigid for being one. The only reason I’ve posted about wanting sex is because I was talking myself into wanting it in order to be normal. I’ve struggled with the concept of sex for so long I literally confused myself about it; living by society’s dictate that I should be having it directly contradicted my (unexpressed) lack of wanting it. In truth I could care less about being a virgin. In truth, I could care less about sex. That doesn’t mean I’ll never have it, but it’s not on my list of priorities. And that freaks people out mostly because they don’t understand that you can have a deep emotional relationship with someone without also wanting to have sex with them. I can’t say for sure that I will never in my life experience sexual attraction, for as I said before if I am a demisexual and meet someone I fall in love with I could develop sexual attraction, but I do know that I have never experienced it so far in life.
After researching and eventually fully identifying with asexuality it was like stepping back from a Seurat painting. Instead of a bunch of random dots I finally saw the whole picture. All the things I never understood about my behavior and motivations suddenly became clear. And best of all, feeling broken was no longer on my list of daily emotions. I understand now why I seem to be immune to most advertising. Why I never bothered as a teen with all those women’s magazines that constantly harp on sex. Why I didn’t lose my mind when New Kids on the Block came out. Why the only poster of a guy I had on my wall growing up was Patrick Swayze (because Dirty Dancing). Why imagining having sex is so difficult. Why I don’t naturally and randomly think about sex. Why dating has been so hard. That one took a little more unpacking because it was wrapped up in my fear of being raped.
After finally admitting to myself that I am completely indifferent toward sex, I realized why the threat of rape became so overwhelming. Not experiencing the physical urge for sex I feel no want or need to have it. There is no motivation. As a result the only way my brain could process having sex was if it was forced or coerced, especially due to my mother’s teachings as well as the world’s for that matter. I understood men’s sexuality as something that was uncontrollable. Once they got started they couldn’t stop. I never believed I could say stop and he would stop. News articles about rape across the world every day reinforced this belief. Our hypersexualized culture taught me I should be having sex (whether I wanted it or not as a woman isn’t really important), that I should be dressing and behaving in a manner which invites sex, and that men want and should be given sex all the time. For someone who has never felt the desire to be sexual with another person it is terrifying. I never thought about enjoying it and never questioned why that was. For someone so hell bent on self-analysis that is crazy, especially because I'm well aware of how great orgasms feel. Self-love is a completely different sexual activity that is not determined one way or another under asexuality. I used to think, why bother getting a boyfriend when he's only going to want it all the time and I won't? It will inevitably cause problems and then it'll be over. I can't believe I never turned the question around and asked myself why I thought I'd never enjoy/want it myself. It didn't help that I constantly came across stories about how often women faked it and how men really didn't know how to please a woman. So I thought, why does anyone bother? I just thought women only did it for men and I wasn't willing to do that. I assumed that at some point in a vague and distant future I'd want it, but it would never be as much as he did and because he had no control over himself there would be no discussion about what was going to happen. I had no say. It is absolutely no wonder why I never really tried to get into a relationship when the only way I saw it existing was if I was constantly powerless. I'd already been powerless under Jean for almost six years, only two of which were fun and mutually beneficial.
Reading over this post from last year when my fear of rape was at an all time high made me want to examine the relationships of any kind that I have had with men throughout my life. I realized my fear only extended to those I felt showed any interest in dating me. I can say pretty confidently that all of the guys who have been in my life, outside of the two or three I met elsewhere and briefly dated, are ones who I interacted or interact with on a daily basis. That is to say sat in classes, lived in dorms, or worked in an office with over an extended period and got to know relatively well. And I really like all of them. As people, as professionals, as guys…as friends. I guess I wouldn’t really consider them friends if I didn’t, but it made me realize that I had somehow blinded myself to the fact that I do know good men. My father being first and foremost! How I grew up with such a kind, patient and passive male influence and yet went on to feel threatened by all men is a mystery. All I can say is fear is really powerful and oppressive.
But I digress. There are those who will and do dismiss asexuality when and if they even know it exists. Dan Savage, a well-known gay rights activist, says in (A)sexual that asexuals are just people who haven’t come out of the closet. Or who are just making noise because they want attention. For him asexuality isn’t real. I actually understand why he feels the need to negate asexuality, because through his eyes it is intruding upon the work he has done to get recognition of gay rights and because asexuals are not actively discriminated against. But as someone who has surely suffered in life because of his difference from the norm he should at least make an effort to understand the reality of the experience. If he could feel how I have felt for the past 25 years he would have no doubt it’s real. The last thing I want or need is attention for my difference but being invisible has certainly taken its toll. There are others who try to pathologize it saying it’s just hormonal and can be fixed. Most asexuals actually have normal levels and taking hormones does not change the lack of sexual attraction. Though the term asexuality is gaining traction as an orientation some in the medical field still regard it as Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder, just as homosexuality was once called a disorder. But it isn’t. It’s not something that happened to me. It’s not fixable. I didn’t choose it. There are some who think I just haven’t found the right guy. Other asexuals who have had sex are told they just haven’t had good sex yet. I’m not sure why it’s so hard to believe that an absence of attraction exists. Kinsey even reported it. If you can be attracted to the opposite gender, the same gender, both genders, or other types of genders, isn’t it logical that you can not be attracted to any gender? There has not been a ton of research yet but the little that has been done found that about 1% - 3% of the popoulation is asexual in both humans and animals.
I take great comfort in finally finding a community I feel like I belong to, regardless of how much or how little I participate in it. I have joined AVEN, the site asexuals usually find first. Reading the boards as well as seeing an increase in articles about asexuality has brought a real sense of relief to my life. As I said I am still processing and trying to figure out how to move forward with finding a life partner but I feel like I have a new perspective on things. One that maybe is a little more hopeful, at least at present. I am also still working out my real feelings about sex and sexual activity, which fluctuate as I imagine they do for most people on any given day. I have ‘come out’ so to speak to most of my close friends, all of who actually knew about asexuality. I could only say, why didn’t you tell me about it? But they have all been really amazing and supportive and it makes me feel great to have such genuine, kind friends who care about me. I also told my brother who is gay and we bonded over how much society influenced how we felt about ourselves, and how difficult it was/is to tell our parents. I am going to tell them in a few weeks when I visit and I am a little worried about it. They are both in their 70s and I am pretty sure have never heard of asexuality. I hadn’t and I’m 37. Their generation has barely gotten a handle on homosexuality…it’s not that I think they will reject me or anything like that, but I know they will have a hard time with it. I think my mom will say I just haven’t met the right man and my dad will pathologize it and say I just need hormones. Whether or not they say these things out loud doesn’t matter, I know they’ll think them. It will be hard for them to hear that another of their children has suffered due to their sexuality especially with something as ambiguous as asexuality, which so many people think isn’t real or is a disorder than can be fixed. It really just hurts to know that they will be disappointed that their daughter has not and will not live a “normal” life. (Not that they are disappointed in me, but rather in life’s unfolding.) That is not to say I will never get married or adopt a baby (I’m 99% sure I will never birth a child) but suffice to say my life has never been normal by our culture’s standards. Sexuality aside, as a mutli-ethnic, strong willed, independent, single woman in her late 30s I am not the norm. But there was always the hope that I’d fall in line and do what everyone else does regarding love and marriage. I even harbored it. I’m still working on the evolution of that hope to fit what I actually want and not what I am expected to want but it is surprisingly hard to let go of beliefs you’ve had forever despite knowing they’re incredibly flawed. At least now I am finally grounded in an identity that makes sense to me. Hopefully it will empower me to choose my own direction instead of being lead.
All in all I think I laid out a relatively good plan in my very first post, though I no longer believe there is one common thing life is about for everyone.
“My plan is not to make this a pity-party but to work out my fears, get over them and attempt to find a loving, intimate relationship with someone. Because really, isn't that what life is about?”
After nine years I think I’m finally one step closer, which for me is a mountain’s crossing from where I started.
Some really great asexuality references if interested:
And some great articles out of the media machine:
Asexuality: The 'X' In A Sexual World – Huffington Post, 2013
An Orientation to Asexuality – CNN, 2014
Life Without Sex: The Third Phase of the Asexuality Movement – The Atlantic, 2012
ASEXUALS: Who Are They and Why Are They Important? – Psychology Today, 2009